Hearing details some allegations against indicted former Prince William elections chief

State prosecutors accuse Michele White of altering 2020 election results

  • By Cher Muzyk Times Staff Writer
  • Mar 10, 2023 Updated Mar 13, 2023

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office is accusing former Prince William County general registrar Michele White of altering local results from the 2020 presidential election – an allegation tied to her September 2022 indictment that was revealed for the first time Friday, March 10 during a pre-trial hearing.

A grand jury indicted White last year on charges of corruption, lying on a state form and neglect of duty. But Miyares’ office has refused to detail the specific allegations underlying the charges and only partially revealed them during the March 10 hearing in Prince William County Circuit Court.

Before Judge Carroll Weimer, Jr., Miyares’ office alleged that White, 51, of Occoquan, altered election results within the state election reporting system known as VERIS, and that her alterations resulted in the inaccurate reporting of Prince William County’s presidential election results to the state. White “swore falsely to those election returns,” prosecutors said in court.

Miyares’ office specifically alleges that White “ordered a third party to change machine tapes” tallying ballot counts in voting machines and “did not count other ballots she was supposed to count,” prosecutors said.

During the hearing prosecutors Phillip Figura and James Herring with the Virginia Office of the Attorney General alleged the VERIS system election numbers were different than the tally tape numbers, indicating that White “uploaded a number that was not accurate.”

“She made up numbers to cover her tracks for negligence in her position,” one of the prosecutors said, adding that the attorney general’s office would provide eyewitness testimony to support the allegations at trial in addition to tally tape evidence.

But the prosecutors provided no specifics about the number of ballots they believe White altered or failed to count. They also did not specify whether the ballots at issue were cast in person or were mailed absentee ballots and provided no information about what precincts might have been affected. They also did not identify the “third party.”

White served as Prince William County’s general registrar from 2015 to April 2021. She resigned from her post after an emergency meeting of the Prince William County Electoral Board in late March 2021.

Miyares’ investigation began after current Prince William County Registrar Eric Olsen discovered what he called “anomalies” in 2020 election paperwork earlier this year. Olsen reported the issues to the Virginia State Board of Elections, which triggered Miyares’ investigation.

Olsen has since declined to give more specifics on what he found except to say the issues he reported would not have changed the results of any election on the ballot in November 2020.

The new information regarding the allegations came to light during the Friday, March 10 hearing during which White’s defense attorney, Zachary Stafford, argued four pre-trial motions.

Stafford asked the judge to order prosecutors to file a “bill of particulars,” which is a written statement detailing the accusations behind White’s charges. Stafford argued that the charges in the indictment are broad and do not provide enough information “to identify with particularity the criminal conduct alleged.”

“My client is confused. I’m confused,” Stafford said. “I have no idea which document she is alleged to have made a false statement on. There are 251 boxes and 691 envelopes” of materials in evidence.

The judge then asked the prosecutors: “Don’t you need to tell them what the corrupt conduct is for them to defend against it? … It seems a little vague to say she engaged in corrupt conduct and that’s all.”

Prosecutors, however, countered that White was just looking for a “roadmap” of the charges, and they declined to provide one. But prosecutors agreed to work with defense counsel to highlight the alleged misconduct at issue. The judge then denied White’s motion for a bill of particulars.

Stafford then asked the judge to order Clerk of the Court Jackie Smith to unseal the ballots and election returns retained from the 2020 election and held at the courthouse so White’s defense team can inspect and copy them.

“The default (assumption) should be that (White) did (her job) correctly. Maybe what White reported was accurate and the tapes were wrong. The ballots give us the best evidence,” Stafford argued.

Prosecutors did not object to allowing White’s attorney access to the ballots and election returns.

The judge granted the defense motion and unsealed the records that include the original tally tapes and ballots to allow White’s defense to prepare for trial. The judge also ordered that the records remain in the custody of Smith’s office, and that any review be done under the clerk’s supervision.

Stafford also asked the judge to authorize state funds to pay for a hand count of Prince William County’s ballots from the November 2020 presidential election. Stafford said that Olsen’s office agreed to perform a hand count at the cost of 45 cents per ballot, for a total of about $103,000.

In his motion, Stafford wrote that White “does not have the funds necessary to pay” for the investigation and that she is “entirely reliant on the charity of others in order to cover these exorbitant expenses.”

White launched a GoFundMe account last October, which so far has raised $2,197 of a $40,000 goal. Stafford noted that White currently makes about $45,000 a year but did not specify where she is employed.

Stafford clarified that White is not seeking a recount of the presidential election, and only wants the hand count performed because “the ballots themselves are the best evidence.”

“The Commonwealth is relying on the tapes. We rely on the ballots. If they say she modified election results, it is fair to count the ballots,” Stafford said during the hearing.

Miyares’ office said such a review has “essentially … already been done.” Prosecutors said that they had already provided an electronic file to the defense in which “Olsen already tallied up machine tapes and noticed the discrepancy between what was reported to VERIS.”

Weimer held that he would not release state funds to pay for a hand count because he did not believe a hand count was “necessary.” He also said that “at $45,000 a year she is not indigent per state criteria.”

The matter is set for a four-day jury trial beginning on April 3. But defense counsel filed a motion seeking a continuance of at least six months to prepare her defense and also requested that the trial’s duration be extended from four days to 10 days.

Weimer is set to decide that motion on Friday, March 17. He tasked Figura and Herring with speaking to the witnesses they intend to question at trial to find out their availability and to be ready to set a new trial date at next week’s hearing.

“This is not likely to go six months, it seems ridiculous.” Weimer said, adding: “I am not going to put this in the middle of elections to have this thing tried in the press.”

Reach Cher Muzyk at cmuzyk@fauquier.com

Prince William Times- reprinted